'The Vagina Monologues' celebrate identity with a genuine community vibe
- Written by Tina Farmer
Though it certainly wasn't all sunshine and lollipops, That Uppity Theatre Company's V-Day 2019 production of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" opened its arms to welcome a truly diverse cast of female and female identifying performers. More than simply black and white or straight and lesbian, the cast featured Latinx, Asian, Eastern European, bisexual and Transgender women in well directed monologues that created a tapestry of familiar faces and voices, ones you are likely to encounter in St. Louis on any given day.
The casting, supported with strong direction by Rhonda Cropp, Joan Lipkin, Suki Peters and Pam Reckamp, was cause for a celebratory mood, even if the pieces themselves were emotionally varied, ranging from heartbreaking to exuberant and from sensual to righteous and angry.
Miss Leon, aka Dieta Pepsi, and 16 year-old Grace Wilder delivered a warm welcome that stated the show's deliberate intent to be consciously inclusive. A smartly layered introduction provided context, explaining the playwright's journalistic approach to the piece and how she used interviews and collected personal stories to craft the monologues. After the show, producer and artistic director Lipkin provided more insight, informing me that each year Ensler chooses which monologues are available for performance - the pieces in the St. Louis production were selected from those.
Margeau Steinau kicked things into high gear with an energetic proclamation called "Hair." The piece is pointed and perceptive, an indictment of people who want women to conform to unreal norms that manages to be funny and empowering, though driven by barely controlled rage.
Carmen Garica was girlish and coy, as well as revealing in "The Flood," and Teresa Doggett had the room in the palm of her hand for "The Vagina Workshop." A flushed sort of laughter echoed each woman's increasing, and realistically funny, sense of discovery and excitement. The professional actors ensured the show started strong, with compelling material that successfully drew the audience in, and all the other performers succeeded in keeping them engaged.
In a show that points out the many contrasting emotions of finding your voice and identity, by far the most revelatory and personally effecting piece was "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy." Performed by Leon and several other trans women, this newer monologue brought tears of empathy, connection and experience to several of the performers' and audience member's eyes. After a brief moment of reverberating silence, as they took in the words and significance of the piece, the audience responded with warm, extended applause. In a show filled with authentic moments of recognition, this piece stood out.
Another incredibly moving piece was "My Vagina Was My Village," a piece about war and femininity dedicated by Galina Angheluta, herself an immigrant, to the people of Bosnia. "My Angry Vagina," which featured Wilder and other actor and community cast members, was angry but positive, not bitter. "My Short Skirt" was appropriately indignant and "The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could" was a heartbreaking memory piece that managed to be realistic and funny all at once. With a spirited chant, Pamela Reckamp encouraged the audience to reclaim a certain derogatory term, while Anna Blair celebrated female pleasure.
Facts regarding the vagina - both figurative and literal, negative and positive - were sprinkled in between monologues, and Jeanitta Perkins closed the show with the only reference to the vagina as part of the cycle of life, "I Was There in the Room." The moving tribute was a fitting end to an evening dedicated to women and their vaginas. In addition to the performers and directors mentioned above, the committed and emotionally connected cast included Christa Lou Cunningham, Paige Russell Elias, Tiffany Knighten, Sara Lin, Judi Mann, Talichia Noah, India Reid, Alderperson Annie Rice, Mariah Richardson and Gail Smith, with live drumming by Lisa Frumhoff, Debbie Blackwell, Rithia Brown, Martha Garcia, Angela Ray Guerrero and Natalie Turner Jones.
That Uppity Theatre Company's production of "The Vagina Monologues" which had a limited run February 16 and 17, was smartly produced. A simple line up of chairs behind music stands enabled quick transitions, accented by spot lighting for the performers and live percussion. The focus of the V-Day 2019 show was a celebration of the feminine and a call to continue to fight for women's rights and legal recognition allowing them to control their bodies and autonomy. My fears that the show would feel dated or screed-like were immediately assuaged by the welcoming introduction and then completely refuted by the vibrant, invested performances.